When I do coaching with acupuncturists, or when I’m working in my business, I inevitably end up thinking about and working with overwhelm. It’s only natural that a Chinese medicine clinic owner might run into symptoms of overwhelm from time to time – the business is complex and sometimes demanding. Further, acupuncturists typically are deeply enmeshed with their businesses – raising the stakes significantly.
I discussed this issue in the first article of this series – and mentioned that the way I approach these moments is by leveraging the use of “business systems.” I define a business system as one of five holistic networks of people, structures, spaces, procedures, tools, strategies, tactics and energies that comprise a healthy functioning acupuncture business.
Understanding these systems is the first step to using the framework to help you defeat overwhelm in your Chinese medicine business.
In the next five articles, I’ll give you the basics of each system and finish up the series by showing you how I use the framework to solve problems in my own and others’ businesses. We start with the executive! The word “executive” evokes the image of the CEO – a sometimes problematic image due to recent abuses by the chief executives of major corporations. When I think about “executive” instead of thinking about the leaders of large multi-national businesses, I like to think of an alternate use – “executive functioning” in brain science.
The executive system helps you orient & manage yourself so you can make steady progress on your goals.
The executive system is the heart and brain of your acupuncture practice. It is the ultimate creative force in your business and represents the ultimate arbiter in all decisions – bar none. In part, it represents YOU – and other owners / partners – those who created the practice and those who are on the hook to maintain and grow it. It is the absolute lifeblood of everything you will do as you grow your Chinese medicine practice.
The executive system is, above all, involved in creating your business plan and guiding you along its path!
So, yes it involves having a business vision, setting goals and allowing for dreams. To support the execution of that business vision, every acupuncturist will rely on the executive system to help in productivity, organization, decision making, developing capacities for leadership, and always staying attuned to the purpose of your practice.
The executive system is also about the team you build to help you execute your vision.
It’s about the impulse and decision to build beyond a solo practice, and the work it takes to make sure that happens in a positive way. It also involves the basic establishment and maintenance of systems that help you care for the people who join you. Conflict is common when people come together, so the executive also creates space for you to grow into people who can be with that reality with strength and calm.
Finally, the executive system is about ethics & boundaries.
Healthcare involves people interfacing with other people – which brings questions of consent, relationship, intimacy and authenticity. As alternative medicine providers, and people who directly interface with the economics of healthcare, there are many additional ethical and even philosophical concerns that should be fully reckoned with during the process of creating an acupuncture clinic. The executive system, when functioning well, will ensure you stay both legally and morally centered.
The executive system, as you can see, is complex and involves the most vital aspects of acupuncture practice.
I enjoy using the symbolism of East Asian medicine to help me understand aspects of my life and practice, as I’ve mentioned before. The importance and centrality of the executive system is the chief reason that I associate it with the Fire phase element. I contend that by looking more deeply at the symbolism associated with Fire, you can understand the executive more deeply and therefore embody it more effectively in your acupuncture practice.
How does FIRE help us understand the Executive system?
Here, I’ll just briefly discuss some of the most important Fire symbolism and suggest lessons. I also encourage you to spend some time reading widely and engaging with the Fire phase element in as many ways as you can – the knowledge that comes from your own life and experience is quite valuable.
Fire is associated with light, heat, yang and summer
Fire is one of the more yang associated of the five phases, and therefore bears all of the energy of yang – it’s upwardness, outwardness, activity, motion and spirit of creation. This relates to business very obviously – business is about action. While we must know when to rest, and when not to act, businesses suffer far more from lack of yang than they do from excesses of it. Further, the warmth and symbol of summer serve as a good model for how we should be present in our practice as executives. By radiating nourishment and warmth to every part of our practice, we create the energy for everything else to move and transform.
In Chinese medicine, Fire has two manifestations.
The Ministerial Fire, associated with Triple Burner and Pericardium is damper, more prone to flare ups, more inconsistent, but powerful, and is the fire that travels throughout the body. The Imperial Fire, associated with Heart and Small Intestine is like the fire in a wood burning stove in Montana, eternal, ever fed, ever present, steady. It stays in one place and should be disturbed little, but its power gives life.
In leading your clinic, you’ll need to learn the lessons of both types of Fire.
Where does a business need stable, enduring warmth and presence? In what ways can we stick with consistency, with the regular everyday leadership work that is required to take our mysterious and beautiful work and offer it day in and day out? Where do we as acupuncturists need to remember to keep it steady and slow, rather than riding the wave of regular business volatility?
Alternatively, when do we have to step out of the palace and take our fire to the people? When is a little extra oomph – even if it results in a flameout – necessary? How can we remember that staying closed up, inspired and ready, but alone in our clinic buildings is not what is needed to bring our Heart to the people that need it?
Now that you have a basic sense of the executive system, why not a quick check-up?
If you already have an acupuncture business – how is your executive system doing? During times of overwhelm, it can be helpful just to think through the various aspects of your executive system using a model like in the one in the graphic on this page. What people, structures, procedures, and plans do you have associated with these areas of your business?
Sometimes, the answer presents itself right away. Other times, looking at other systems is necessary.
Next, we’ll discuss the Facilities system – which I associate with the Earth phase element.